I’m an information addict, no doubt, but then again isn’t that the case for the most of us these days? The thing is that unlike (unfortunately) most of us, whenever I find something especially interesting/intriguing online, I dig deep and go for the original source – behind the scenes, so to say, in order to see what really is under the polished end-product, which is fed to the masses.
The Internet has indeed made the creating, consuming, sharing and searching for information easier than ever before, but it has not done so without consequences. The openness of the Internet has lots of debatable downsides, ranging from cyber terrorism to illegalized peer networks, but although many of those regularly gain flashy headlines, I’m writing about an issue that is often ignored: the quality and the worthiness of the data itself.
Problem #1: The (Lack of) Quality
The groundwork for this blog text can be set with a simple equation, courtesy of yours truly:
The overall quality of information is inversely proportional to the quantity of the said information.
I believe this modern paradigm will only continue to grow worse, as by the year 2020 the world will generate 50 times the amount of information it outputs today. This number will likely be much higher though, if Internet of Things truly gets going. I mean, this thing isn’t exactly rocket-biology: every one of us gets frustrated every now and then when we don’t find the information we are searching for from the net (pardon the super simplified example). The Internet has actually become so close to us that we can get emotional when this trusted partner does not act the way we are used to or want it to. That doesn’t sound like healthy relationship, now does it?
The on-going quality degeneration of online information is getting more frustrating by the day. So called news sites are filled with gossip, inappropriate or downright shady adds keep infesting most if not all of our favorite sites, and your online experience is constantly being “tailored” in the name of more relevant content (which either goes miserably wrong or is somewhat achieved by sacrificing privacy for corporate profits).
Problem #2: Trusting the Source
The next issue is very closely related (or someone would say intertwined) with number 1, the reliability of the data. Most people have some sort of general – but faint – knowledge, that practically anyone can post anything online (and claiming to be someone else while doing it), so most folks think that e.g. reading news only from “trusted sources” brings them reliable information. I know my example here is a bit controversial, but on a general level, most of us have way too much trust on the Internet. And as the Internet is “the new newspaper”, although in digital form, the available information is still not immune to regulation, reshaping or even censorship.
This spring we learned by an information leak that EU will spend £2 million to monitor press and public opinions online. Program’s goal is to silence eurosceptics and promote the image of unified EU. This type of comprehensive media shaping is something that could be classified as hasbara. Term originally meant Israel’s public diplomacy (“it seeks to work with and convince the public, particularly decision makers, shapers of public opinion and important sectors of society”), but it is more easily comprehendible as the art of shaping the public opinion. Very, very fascinating topic for research!
What I am trying to say here, is that most of the information – if not all – what most people consume online is made by someone, for someone’s benefit, and to win you over. That is, to deepen your trust and relationship with the publisher or the creator of the information.
One way to counter this on a personal level is OSINT, Open Source Intelligence. Despite militarisk acronym (and somewhat background), it’s actually a neat method for anyone to gain an advantage over fake news. OSINT refers to openly available information and how that information is shared and pieced together to create intact data and context around it. Easiest way to get a glimpse of how it works is to simply check out what #osint has to offer on Twitter. Obviously I am talking about a lot larger movement than a simple hashtag, but that will give you an idea how large discipline we’re talking about here.
There are two main takeaways from this text: 1. keep your common sense with you when browsing, and 2. it is always healthy to question more. And remember, the digital information about you is much greater than the information you create yourself.
One pretty neat YouTube channel to check out is Storm Clouds Gathering, which has (for me) proven to be one of the most reliable sources of information regarding all recent major global events. I also encourage you to support and follow WikiLeaks, and no matter what terribly tragedy governments use to trample upon your freedom of speech, don’t buy it. If we ever lose the freedom to express ourselves (online or offline), humanity is doomed. Simple as that.
I hope I got you thinking now, but what you want to do with this knowledge is up to you.